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Sampler: John Deere and The Development of Mechnanized Agriculture


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John Deere
John Deere and Company

The tractors produced by Deere and Company are common sights in both farmland and construction sites. Like so many major corporations of today, Deere and Company has origins that can be traced to a specific location depicted in the fire insurance maps in the collections of the Library of Congress. Here is an illustration of the Moline Plow Works of Deere and Company, as published in January 1886, just four months before the death of the firm's founder, John Deere.

John Deere (1804-1886) learned and practiced blacksmithing in his native Vermont until he was thirty-three years old. He then headed west, setting up his forge in Grand Detour, Illinois, in 1837. There he began experimenting with iron plows after recognizing that New-England-style wooden plows were inadequate for the soils of the plains and muddy river bottoms. By 1846, his company was producing approximately one thousand hand-made plows a year.

Believing that Grand Detour did not have the connections to transportation systems that he needed, Deere sold his business to his partner and moved to Moline, Illinois, on the Mississippi River, where the company that bears his name was founded. By 1857, he was producing nearly ten thousand plows a year. Shortly thereafter, he brought his son and son-in-law into the business and gave it the name of Deere and Company.

Deere Company Moline Plow Works
Graphic detail of John Deere Company shops

Although the Deere plows were iron, much of the framework to which they were attached was made of hardwood. Consequently, the Deere Company Moline Plow Works was more or less equally divided between iron working facilities and wood shops. As the map shows, the heart of the facility was a four-story building housing numerous forges. Arrayed around it in a U shape were buildings for the curing, planing, steam bending, shaping, and polishing of hardwood. Painting and varnishing took place in several different locations. John Deere's concerns about access to transportation are reflected in the integration of rail lines into the factory, with its two separate turning tables for bringing freight cars in and out of loading facilities, as well as in the plant's riverside location.

Gary L. Fitzpatrick


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  August 9, 2010
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